Legislators wisely listening as students ask for equal treatment

Nathan-on-Education-newSix high school students spoke out and legislators listened.

As college costs rise, families are looking for ways to help youngsters be better prepared and earn college credits while still in high school.

Richfield High School students Sam Petrov, Beisite Wang, Henry Hoang, Wendy Hughes, Michelle Nguyen and Cherish Kovach – most of whom have taken college-level courses on both high school and college campuses – asked for something simple. They urged equal treatment when their high school grade point average is figured, regardless of where their college-level courses are taught.

In a survey of 34 districts and charter leaders, I found that most agree with the students.

GPA is important for scholarships. Some colleges and universities use GPAs to determine whether students are accepted.

Unfortunately the Richfield School Board rejected students’ request to have equal weighting for college-level courses taught on a high school and college campus.

But Minnesota’s House Education Policy Committee heard and agreed with the students. On a bipartisan voice vote of about 10-1, legislators agreed to give districts two options: either weigh all dual-credit courses equally (above other courses) or weigh all high school courses equally, with no extra “weight” on students’ GPAs for taking college-level courses.

Thirty-four districts and charter school leaders responded about how they figured GPAs:

• Seventeen rated all high school courses equally, giving no extra weight to college-level courses;

• Four gave extra weight to all dual-credit courses, whether offered at the high school or on a college campus;

• Seven gave extra weight only to college-level courses offered in their school and no extra weight to Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) courses taught on a college campus;

• Two weigh dual-credit courses taught in the high school and will review courses taught on college campuses to determine value;

• One gives some, but not as much weight to PSEO courses as to college-level courses taught in the high school; and

• Three do some variation of the above.

Little Falls Principal Tim Bjorge, said, “Little Falls Community High School uses the traditional 4.0 grading system and weighs all classes equally. The issue has been studied several times over the past 15 years by the building leadership team and on each occasion has arrived at the same conclusion: The traditional 4.0 non-weighted grading system works well for our curriculum and students.”

Pierz Supt. George Weber, said, “We do not weigh courses. We did adopt a new policy a few years ago that is specific to our class ranking of our top five students in our graduating class. Our policy basically states: If you want to be considered for Top 5 Ranking, you must take some combination of our most rigorous courses; like college composition, college physics, college chemistry, etc.”

In Upsala, Vern Capelle, K-12 dean of students, wrote: “We weigh CIS (College in the Schools) and PSEO regarding credits and utilize the guidelines provided by statutory language. Semester classes receive high school credits based on the number of college credits earned.”

Many community and business groups across the political spectrum supported the GPA weighting bill, HF 2049, which includes the students’ ideas.

The Minnesota Association of School Administrators and the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals testified against the bill, arguing that districts should be allowed to decide.

The bill would allow districts to decide between two options – while preserving equal treatment of all college level courses. Some districts are trying to encourage students to stay in the high school classes so dollars don’t flow to the college to pay for PSEO courses. The vast majority of youngsters are choosing courses offered in high schools.

The House bill prizes both local decisions and equal treatment of dual credit courses. That seems like a reasonable compromise.

Joe Nathan directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected] change.org.